The time I have been dreaming about since kindergarten was finally approaching. University seemed like a distant eternity from the confines of elementary and high school. Suddenly, everything began to happen so quickly -- prom, final exams, graduation. Then, with what seemed like a blink of an eye, I was a few short weeks from starting the next chapter of my life: Ryerson University.
Everything was in order. I had my school issued email, I manipulated my schedule to only have class on Monday and Tuesday, and everything I needed to move on-campus was perfectly packed waiting to be moved out. But then my perfectly made plans began to unravel over the course of one hour.
My iPhone woke me up with screeching sound of my alarm on August 19. Inevitably, I pressed snooze until I looked at my calendar half-asleep seeing that I had lunch plans with Arlene Dickinson, CEO of Venture Communications, at noon. I got out of bed and played my "Get Ready" playlist, perfectly curated to give me 60 minutes to get ready and get out the door.
Last year, in June 2013, as I procrastinated studying on the eve of my grade 11 math exam, I tweeted that it was my summer goal to have lunch with Arlene Dickinson. A few minutes later, Twitter had connected me to one of Canada's most notable entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, when Arlene replied agreeing to meet with me for lunch. A few months later, I met Arlene for lunch on a warm summer day in Toronto. Simply by tweeting, I had aligned myself to "the nice dragon" of CBC's Dragon's Den, a show for entrepreneurs to pitch ventures to some of Canada's most noteworthy investors.
A year later, I walked into Le Select Bistro on Wellington Street in Toronto. I was 15 minutes early for my lunch with Arlene to celebrate one year of meeting each other and to catch up on what we've both been up to. Or so I thought. I ordered a Perrier as I waited and quickly scrolled through Twitter. When Arlene arrived, we hugged each other, ordered a salmon and kale salad, and quickly got down to business chatting about what the past year held for both of us.
We then began talking about how I was only a two weeks away from beginning to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication at Ryerson University. I then asked my best mentor for advice on how to manage going to university full-time and running Mott Communications -- the public relations and social media agency that I started when I was 15. "It's going to be extremely difficult," were the words that I were dreading. They were also the words I ended up hearing.
Conversing with Arlene, I began to realize that I was going to university because it was the normal thing to do; it was what all my friends were doing. I've already built a company, with real cash flow, real results, real lawyers, real accountants, and real clients. But, over the next four years while I studied at university, the momentum I had worked on building for years may flutter away. "Take a year and see what happens, Patrick," counseled Arlene, "you're only 17. You have so much ahead of you, but don't lose this momentum."
Then came the words I have been wishing to hear since I started my company, "There's space in my building. Take it, build your company. If you succeed, you'll pay me rent at fair market value for the space." I couldn't believe what was happening as Arlene continued, "If you don't, I'll forgive your debt and you go back to school." Prime real estate on Wellington Street was being offered to me by the Arlene Dickinson with a price tag contingent on my success.
I was at a crossroad: go the "normal" route and go to university immediately after high school, or take a year and build my business, start new ventures, and be mentored by Arlene -- a dream come true for so many entrepreneurs. Immediately, the choice was clear as Mark Twain's quote, "Don't let schooling interfere with your education," popped into my mind. But there was one problem -- how would I tell people I was taking a year off school without seeming absolutely crazy?
Having over 30,000 followers on Twitter means that I'm exposed to my fair share of "haters." I knew that if I made this (crazy) decision it may not be received with glee by family, friends, and even strangers. But that's the risk I was willing to take. I only have one life, I will make the decisions that make me happy, because in the wise words of Taylor Swift, "the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate hate." And in the even wiser words of Arlene, "So what if they don't agree?"
After a hug and a selfie, Arlene told me to think it over, talk it over with my parents, and let her know what I decided. I thought it over. And thought it over. And thought it over. To me, the choice was clear -- take this once in a lifetime opportunity. School will still be there next year. After logically presenting my decision to my family and friends, they agreed I could not let this opportunity go to waste -- I had to take it.
Two days later, I emailed Arlene with the subject line, "Let's do this..."
This week, I should be starting university, but instead I'm moving into my new office on Wellington W. in Toronto.
Sure, this decision seems crazy. But, please remember that I am not abandoning education to watch Netflix all day. In fact, I'm not abandoning education at all. Rather, I'm learning in a non-traditional way; experientially. This will be a year for growth in every way, and I hope you can be as excited for me as I am excited to learn even more and further build a venture that caters to my breed -- natural entrepreneurs.
One tweet was all it took; one tweet to unravel my post-secondary education plans, one tweet to set my career ablaze.
On Twitter, Patrick is @PatrickMott.